It is staggering when you realize that the Internet, as the public sees it now, is only a little over two decades old. In the early 1990’s only a small number of families in the United States had a home Internet connection, and it of course, was slow. Within the past 10 years especially, both the number of Internet subscribers and the speed of network connections has risen dramatically. With the advent of mobile devices, and wider wireless network coverage, use of the Internet has become even more popular. This increase in speed, plus the availability of higher quality equipment at affordable prices, has also made the use of the Internet for displaying and perpetuating digital video almost commonplace. Online services like “YouTube” have made it possible for anyone to display their video clips to the public, and for anyone to embed those clips on their own sites. This, however, has created legal problems for those who do not understand how the law applies in this situation.

In the late 1990’s, a legal battle involving “” and several recording companies and musicians introduced the world to terms like “Internet piracy”, and “Illegal downloads.” Law suits were filed, Napster was shut down, and everyone was more sensitive to the dangers of sharing copyrighted material. Unfortunately, with those changes that I mentioned earlier, and the increased distribution and display of digital video files, we now run into a similar problem. Services like “YouTube” are making millions of video clips available for Web Developers and end users, legally, while hundreds of other “pirate” sites are providing video in a less-than-legal fashion. Even though YouTube is considered a legal service, there have still been problems. In May of 2008, Viacom filed a lawsuit for $1 billion against YouTube for their alleged failure to protect their users against copyright infringement. Changes have been made on the site, but in the end it is the responsibility of the user to see to it that the videos they upload to “YouTube”, or the clips they embed on their sites comply with International Copyright laws.

Uploading , Copyrighted Video Materials:

Who can legally upload video files for display on “YouTube” or other similar video sites? The simple answer is that, legally, only the holder of the copyright for the work can distribute or display it. If you are solely responsible for the filming of the video, the writing of the background music, and the design of any graphics used—then you are fine. If any part of the video has been recorded or created by somebody else, then you may have problems. This is especially true for anything presented commercially, such as movie or TV clips, Trailers, or recorded music.

If you did not create all parts of the video, you may use them with permission from the copyright holder. It is best to get that permission in writing. Any simple format is fine, and some companies even have their own forms available. Make sure that the owner’s signature is on the form, and a detailed description of the material is listed.

There are exceptions to the above rules. Any works published before 1923 are considered in the “Public Domain,” and not protected by Copyright. This obviously doesn’t affect video clips themselves, but may affect their contents like background music. The second exception is works covered by “Fair Use,” which states that you can use a copyrighted piece without permission, as long as you are presenting it for review, commentary, news reporting, education, or research. Details about this information and more on can be found at: http://www.

Embedding or Displaying Videos:

What about videos that have already been uploaded to “YouTube” or other video service sites? All of the above stipulations still apply. You cannot legally embed or otherwise display a video on your site without the copyright holder’s permission. “YouTube” or the other sites are not responsible for this permission, you are. The important thing to remember is that just because a video is available on the site, does not mean it is there legally. Posters on “YouTube” are given the option to allow users to “embed” their videos on another site, and that implies permission to do so. However, you can’t always trust the fact that they have the right to give their permission. If their video is on the site in violation of copyright laws and you use it—both of you are guilty of infringement, and can be held legally responsible. The complete information pertaining to this is detailed on Christopher Hen’s site:

Much of this is common sense, but you cannot afford to count on that completely. The legal ramifications of violating copyright laws are steep. For instance in the case of recorded music, the copyright holder can file a lawsuit and be awarded up to $150,000 per piece, if they feel their rights have been violated. Electronic piracy can also bring jail time in a federal prison, if you are convicted. Having said that, please be aware that I am not a lawyer, so the advice I give in this article is based on my knowledge and experience and should not be considered legal advice. It is, however, important for all web designers and developers to be aware of their rights, so be careful with any work that is not totally your own, and act responsibly.


John Adams Jr,

John is a free-lance author and journalist born and raised in upstate New York. He is currently living and writing in Saint Augustine, Florida where the temperature is a bit warmer and the lifestyle more relaxed. The move has allowed John to broaden his range as a writer and he now lends his unique voice to everything from news and review articles in print and on the Web, to a broad range of eBooks and creative pieces. John’s work is beginning to attract attention from a wide variety of readers, in many countries. See John’s Google Plus Profile.<